Saturday, July 28, 2007

Chirping crosswalks for the visually impaired!

Blind and visually-impaired people living and working in the City of Elmira say they have had several close calls using crosswalks along the city's busy streets. They say drivers often don't notice that they cannot see their fast-moving vehicles. "I've had one car stay stopped, and the car beyond them in the next lane just take off and go right in front of me," says Donna Poteat, a legally blind woman who works for the Southern Tier Association for the Visually Impaired.

"I was crossing up here on Harper and Madison, and a car came out of nowhere," says Richard Mccines, also legally blind. "I think it came from a carwash, and just spun out in front of me as I was crossing the street and just hit the tip of my cane." Now, a new signal installed around July 17th at the intersection of Clemens Center Parkway and East Church Street makes it easier for Mccines and other visually-impaired pedestrians to cross safely.

It's the first device of its kind to be installed in the Southern Tier. "It's got a chirp, a high-pitched chirping you can hear over the traffic and it gives you enough time to get across," says Mccines. Blind and visually-impaired people rely on their sense of hearing to tell when it's safe to cross. That's why it's far safer for them to rely on a chirping signalling device rather than the unpredictable sounds of moving traffic. Three more signals will be installed along the Clemens Center Parkway. The first will be installed over the next two weeks at Washington Avenue.

The next two will be at 2nd and 5th Streets. Because Clemens Center Parkway is a state-owned road, the New York State Department of Transportation will foot the bill for the devices, which cost around $1600 each. But, representatives of the Southern Tier Association for the Visually Impaired say they hope Elmira's city leaders will see the benefit and allocate some city funds to have them installed at more intersections. "There's currently no budget for it," says Joe Ponzi of S.T.A.V.I. "Right now we're in the testing phase.

We're testing to see which intersections [need them], and how effective it is." Ponzi says that if you have any suggestions about where other visually impaired signalling devices should be installed, you may contact the Southern Tier Association for the Visually Impaired at 607-734-1554.

Visually impaired workers now have more career options

With beauty and personal care sector coming up as one of the fastest-growing in India, it is also offering a chance for the visually impaired to break the traditional mould and look for new career opportunities. Some 50 visually challenged people have undergone training in therapeutic massage since the Blind Relief Association, New Delhi, started a course in collaboration with the Vandana Luthra Curls and Curves (VLCC) Institute three years ago.

"It is a vocational course mainly aimed at imparting scientific training to the blind in massaging and body therapy techniques to help them become self-reliant," says A David, the project manager of the Association who designed the course, open for both men and women who passed eighth standard with science as one of the subjects.

Covering relaxation and therapeutic massage, pressure point massage and aromatherapy, the three-month course is recognised by the VLCC, which imparts training to the instructors and awards certificate to the students. Four batches have passed out since the course was started in 2004, and while some 15 visually impaired students are working independently, several have opened their own massage parlours, providing jobs to others, says Rampal Singh, who is working as an instructor.

The Association is also providing self-employment and placement assistance. "We are imparting the training free of cost to equip the visually challenged to make a career for themselves," Yogesh Sethi, the CEO of VLCC Health Care Ltd, says.

Site for shopping online is adapted to the visually impaired!

Two Rochester Institute of Technology students are launching an online wardrobe site for blind and visually impaired people.

White Cane Label is a nonprofit effort to help blind people shop online and keep track of their clothes without the help of a sighted friend.

The site's interface will be driven by sound and text instead of images.

The retailers are relying 100 percent on designer donations for inventory, but will charge full price to stop sighted buyers from taking advantage of bargains.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Visually impaired composer encounters success!

To be visually challenged may be an impediment but it should not stop one from pursuing other gifts that life has accorded them.

This has been a guiding fact for one Joseph Osumba. He is a blind choirmaster who has entertained three
presidents from East Africa in the past 37 years.

Mr Joseph Osumba.Today a retired teacher, Osumba 59, was promoted by retired President Daniel Moi following his string of compositions.

Osumba’s only regret, however, is that he never saw the standing ovations he received in the packed stadiums and halls.

The visually impaired composer and instructor of the once popular Prisons Choir is the brainchild of patriotic songs that were once the epitome of national day celebrations.

Osumba recalls these special days, when mammoth crowds turned up at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi and listened to his compositions.

He argues that music is natural

His well known compositions include Meli ya Nyayo and Lugha ya Mama among other songs
"I conducted the choirs that entertained presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Moi of
Kenya as well as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania during his visits here," says Osumba.

Mr Joseph Osumba (left) with the Prisons Choir. Pictures by Titus MunalaHis attempt to add President Mwai Kibaki to his list of VIPs hit a snag at the State Lodge in Kisumu last month when he was told that ‘Mzee was tired’.

Kibaki was on a three-day tour of Nyanza Province after launching the Lake Victoria Basin Commission.

The composer started out with Gospel songs and had trained the Kodiaga Prisons Choir to present a song titled "Kibaki: Kiongozi Mwenye Kipawa" but failed to accomplish his mission.
"State guests that I entertained with the Prisons Choir are too many to name. The group was considered among the most patriotic in the country," Osumba recalls.

Osumba argues that music is natural. He does not use a baton as is the case with other conductors and often dances along to the music when conducting choirs at times hitting his legs with his hands.

"I do that to show my appreciation of music because I am usually in my own world when conducting a choir that sings the right codes," he says.

Talent has made him rub shoulders with the high and mighty

The choirmaster, who says his talent has made him rub shoulders with the high and mighty, singles out Moi as a leader who appreciated music.

"I started teaching as a PI teacher in January 1970 before Moi ordered the Teachers Service Commission to push my grade up," says Osumba.

A similar directive by President Kenyatta at State House, Nakuru, to have him promoted in 1977 landed on deaf ears.

"I composed, conducted, instructed and presented a choir before President Kenyatta in 1975 titled, Kenyatta Muana wa Muigai, which he loved," Osumba says.

The then Nyanza Provincial Commissioner, Mr Ishmael Chelanga, had led a delegation from the area to State House, Nakuru.

"The eight teachers who accompanied the choir were to be promoted by one grade while I was to be promoted by two since I was the choirmaster," he says.

At the time, Osumba was teaching at the Kibos School for the Visually Impaired and headed its choir, which also entertained Kenyatta and sang many songs including Kenyatta Mlima wa Kenya.
"Kenyatta was so impressed with the compositions. He said I was a blind man who saw his development more than those who could see," says Osumba.

Moi saw to his promotion as a teacher

The artist also recalls the late Nyerere’s appreciation of his songs during his visits to Kenya in the 1970s.

Osumba, who composed and conducted 50 songs in praise of Moi between 1978 and 2002, says the former President always paused to listen to the tunes.

"I was always at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with the Prisons Choir to either send off or receive Moi from his tours abroad," he says.

He sang other compositions during national days, which he says were a ‘must-attend’ during the Nyayo era.

"Most of the songs were in support of the Nyayo philosophy. They promoted the then newly introduced 8-4-4 system of education, family planning and the free ‘Nyayo milk’ introduced in primary schools by Moi," he says.

It is Moi who saw to his promotion as a teacher from grade P1 to S1, a precursor to other promotions, before Osumba’s
retirement two years ago as an Approved Status Teacher One.
Although he did not earn a salary at the Prisons Choir, Osumba says the administrators ensured that his ‘palms were always greased’ after performances.

"Leaders like Moi would not let you go empty handed after presentations," he says.
His talent in music is inborn

Osumba and his group were regular visitors to Kabarak home on weekends, often to entertain the former Head of State and his high profile guests.

"We (the choir) were also invited to perform at several weddings and corporate functions which made the group constantly occupied and in demand," he says.

Despite being blind, he has a sharp ear that easily detects members of the choir singing out of tune.

Osumba, who is married to a former member of the Prisons Choir, says his talent in music is inborn but may also be passed on.

"My grandmother used to sing but I believe I was also born with the talent which I sat on for a long time until I joined college," he says.

Osumba recalls that his first recording with a choir was in 1975 when he took pupils of Kibos School for the Visually Impaired to a studio at Mfangano Lane in Nairobi.

The retired teacher attended Thika School for The Blind before joining Thika High School in 1965, where he shared a class with students who are not visually impaired.

"Thika School for the Blind (Secondary) was started when I was in Form Three. I learnt in Braille throughout my schooling," he says.

He plays the keyboard and flute

It was at Thogoto Teachers Training College where Osumba formed a choir with four other men. Female students later joined the group.

"I composed a song that competed at the national platform for colleges with the then esteemed Siriba Teachers College and we were the runners up," he says.

Osumba says he sings to his wife, Janet Awino, at their house in Kisumu. He hails from Kamanga village, Rachuonyo District in Nyanza Province.

He plays the keyboard and flute and says he is not about to retire from music any time soon.
"I am not yet done. I still compose songs late in the night today as I used to 37 years ago and they are just as sweet," he says.

Osumba has never travelled abroad but says he almost went with the Prisons Choir to Israel after composing a Jewish song. "An Israeli taught me a few Jewish words that helped me compose a song that promoted peace in the troubled
Middle East. The trip, however, did not materialise," he says.

The composer of the hit Anyango anapenda Samaki na Ugali says the Prisons Choir recorded several songs over the years.

Stevie Wonder and Mary Atieno are his role models

He says that though he may have left a mark as a choirmaster, being visually impaired has had its challenges.

"I can only compose songs in Braille, which means I have to hire a translator for members of the choir to read and understand," he says.

The musician, who is also good with musical instruments, was the pillar behind the construction of an academic block at St Francis School, Kapenguria.

"Moi called me aside and gave me Sh200,000 after I put together a group of pupils to sing for him a patriotic song during a visit to Kapenguria in the 1980s," he recalls.

It is after Moi gave him the Sh200,000, which, the school used to construct a
tuition block, that he ordered for Osumba’s promotion.

Osumba is today a choirmaster of the Kodiaga Prisons Choir and Kibos School for the Visually Impaired, which he has so far led to the annual national schools music festival.

He cites internationally renowned singer, songwriter, producer, humanitarian, and social activist, Stevie Wonder, and local gospel songstress, Mary Atieno, as his role models.

"Stevie Wonder was an inspiration because is also visually impaired. The same goes for Atieno who has sang exceptionally well to date," says Osumba.

Other musical groups that inspire him are the Arusha Mjini of the Sodom na Gomorrah fame and Mwanza Town Choir of Tanzania.

Harry Potter to be available to visually impaired fans soon!

Harry Potter fans worldwide are eagerly anticipating Friday night's release of the seventh and final book in the blockbuster series. That includes the blind. In Oregon, those fans won't have to wait long to find out what happens. Correspondent Chris Lehman reports.

The Oregon State Library ships hundreds of books on tape to visually impaired readers every day. The library doesn't have the budget to buy audio copies of every new book, so normally readers have to wait until the shipment of free copies from the Library of Congress arrives.

That can take months. The library -- with help from some private donors -- anted up the cash for ten copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There's a long waiting list already. Marion Bryson, of the State Library, says it's been a while since a book has been so eagerly awaited.

Marion Bryson: "I know when Satanic Verses came out by Salman Rushdie sometime back, they fast-tracked that one through because it was a big thing."Users of Washington state's audio book service will have to wait a little longer. Nearly 50 people have signed up, but a spokesperson says it could be a month until copies are available.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Blind TV a reality!

When Renee Rentmeester told people she wanted to create a cooking show geared toward blind people, she ran into some hurdles.

''There were challenges in the very beginning,'' she said. 'The question I kept getting was `Why would I do a TV show for blind people?' ''

But halfway through the second season of Cooking Without Looking, producer Rentmeester has seen many of those confused looks replaced by expressions of awe and interest. The show, which airs Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on WXEL-TV42 PBS in South Florida to an estimated audience of 1.7 million, is the first of its kind, Rentmeester said.

Three hosts, all of whom are blind or visually impaired, teach an audience how they prepare their favorite meals, demonstrating cooking techniques to help visually challenged people stay safe in the kitchen.

Nova Southeastern University's College of Optometry is underwriting the show's second season.
''We think it's a great show and we're proud to be in support of it,'' said Dr. Nicole Patterson, chief of Low Vision and Geriatrics at NSU. ``We hope to get more involved with it in the future.''

Wednesday, Cooking Without Looking was taped on location at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired at 601 SW 8th Ave.

Hosts Celia Chacon of Plantation, Annette Watkins of Sunrise and Allen Preston of West Palm Beach taught audience members how to make lasagna and a seven-layer salad.

Using detailed audio descriptions of their actions, the hosts guided the audience through the entire process of preparing the dishes, pausing to give extra tips for visually challenged people.

Rentmeester, who lives in Kendall, insisted that she wanted the program to be like any other cooking show, the only difference being the added information and tips for the blind and visually impaired.

The show is geared toward both the sighted and the visually impaired, said Rentmeester, president of Vision World Foundation, the non-profit company that produces the show.

She believes that more than half of the people who tune in to the show are neither blind nor visually impaired.

''It's not about exclusion,'' she said. ``This is for blind people and for everybody. You might have an aunt or uncle or family member that's blind. This is a way that people can learn to deal with their blindness.''

Rentmeester, who spent years working as a broadcast journalist before starting her own media relations company, said the idea for the show sprang up after she began to take an interest in the affairs of visually challenged people.

She got involved in a few local blindness related groups and began reading what many people were saying in online communities for the visually impaired and saw one issue kept coming up.
''I noticed the one topic that was very popular was cooking and people were sharing recipes and tips for cooking,'' she said. ``For example, sometimes you can tell when something's done when you're baking it by smelling it. You can stick a knife in a steak and taste the juice to see if it's done. You can microwave eggs instead of frying them.''

Chacon, who has always loved cooking, said she didn't lose her culinary skills when she lost her eyesight 13 years ago. She could fill a book with all the strategies she has learned to help her out in the kitchen, she said.

''I had to adapt in a different sense because I no longer relied on my eyes,'' said Chacon, who was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. ``I rely on my tactile skills and my smells and sounds. I'll go shopping and I can tell if tomatoes or cucumbers are ripe by the way they feel. Sometimes I tap them and listen to the sound they make.''

These are the kind of tips Chacon and the other hosts give out during the show.

On Wednesday, audience members learned how to grease a pan without missing a spot, open plastic containers without using a knife, and bake lasagna without boiling the noodles.

''There's nothing worse than burning your hands trying to use boiled lasagna,'' Watkins said, looking into the camera. ``If the sauce is saucy enough, you don't need to boil first.''

Rentmeester is convinced that the show has touched a lot of people, as she receives dozens of emails every week from both sighted and blind people.

At Nova Southeastern, the show is a hit among optometry students as well as patients in the low vision rehabilitation program, Patterson said.

The university plans to have the hosts come and teach patients some of their cooking techniques.
A number of optometrists from Nova Southeastern have been guest speakers for the show's Food for Thought segment, which introduces audience members to people who provide services to the visually impaired.

The next step is to get Cooking Without Looking shown in more markets, Rentmeester said.
''It's my dream to have this show all over the country,'' she said.

Staff live life as visually impaired...for a day!

“I felt nervous before about blind people. Now I feel I’m sure I can help them.”July Huaman July Huaman was a little nervous. In a couple of days, the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel where she’s a waitress would welcome about 100 blind and visually impaired guests.

How do you serve food to someone who can’t see?

How do you clean their room?

How do you direct them around the vast spaces of a convention hotel?

Those were some of the questions the hotel’s workers faced as they prepared for the national conference of the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

From Friday through Sunday, the foundation will be presenting a medical research update to about 400 people from around the country. About a fourth of them are either blind or losing their vision to diseases such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa.

The foundation and hotel have been preparing for a year. The hotel has stockpiled special equipment for the visually and hearing impaired, such as clocks with extra-large numerals and vibrating alarms.

And the foundation has scouted the hotel for potential hazards — a two-story escalator will be trimmed with tape as a warning, and blind guests will be guided away from the massive revolving entrance door.

“In hotels, you get all kinds of different experiences with people,” said Matt Jackson, the hotel’s convention services director. “You need to be a chameleon. You have to mirror your guests’ experiences.”

On Wednesday, about 100 hotel staffers had an opportunity to mirror the experiences of a blind person.

“Your role is to figure out what you do when you encounter a blind person,” sensitivity trainer Linda Gorsuch said. “They are very independent. They want to do things on their own.”

Blind people often will use their memory and organizational techniques to keep track of their belongings or learn their way around new places, Gorsuch said.

“You may see blind people touch the wall casually as they walk down the hall. They may be counting doors until they reach their room,” she said. “So we ask you to be alert. Don’t leave room-service trays or cleaning carts in the hallways.”

Gorsuch had plenty of other advice for the hotel’s staff:

•When serving food, tell the diner where things are being placed. Use the clock-face system to describe how things are oriented. For example, the water glass may be at 2 o’clock, the bread basket at 10 o’clock.

“Don’t refill glasses without telling them,” she said. “Don’t take anything away without telling them.”

•When cleaning rooms, do not move anything or put things away. A blind person may have placed a chair in the middle of his room to use as a guidepost. He most likely memorized the location of his toiletries.

“If you move them around, they could be gelling their hair with mouthwash or brushing their teeth with mousse,” Gorsuch warned.

•Guide dogs are beautiful and intelligent animals, but don’t touch them or interact with them unless you have their owner’s permission.

“When they have their harness on, they are working and they serve a vital function,” Gorsuch said. “They have to be focused on their tasks.”

Gorsuch passed out red and blue blindfolds to the hotel workers and had them take turns walking through the hotel with another worker serving as their guide.

“No peeking. No peeking,” she insisted. “It’s an issue of trust and faith in the person who is walking you.”

Arm in arm the wait staff and housekeepers went. Some giggled. Some touched the walls for guidance.

“This gives you a chance to see the total vulnerability, but also the trust that a blind person may need to have in a total stranger,” Gorsuch said.

For July Huaman, the experience gave her new insights and confidence.

“I felt nervous before about blind people,” she said. “Now I feel I’m sure I can help them.”
@ Go to for a photo gallery.

To reach Alan Bavley, call 816-234-4858 or send e-mail to

AT&T offers new wireless technology to the visually impaired

AT&T Inc. has announced plans to launch new wireless software products this year to increase usability for customers who are blind or visually impaired. AT&T will partner with Code Factory to offer two new products: Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier, both for Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 operating system devices.

AT&T consults with leaders from the disability community to develop product and service offerings designed to meet the needs of customers with vision loss. "By working closely with organizations that are committed to serving seniors or people with disabilities, AT&T is able to better understand the unique needs of its customers," said Carlton Hill, vice president of Product Management for AT&T's wireless unit. "These new software options will help make it easier for all individuals to enjoy a digital lifestyle wherever they go."

"Code Factory's mission is to make it possible for visually impaired consumers to use the most advanced mobile technology," said Eduard Sanches, CEO of Code Factory. "AT&T has a long track record of enabling communications for all of its customers, and we are very pleased to partner with them to make even more mobile devices accessible to the visually impaired."

Mobile Speak is a powerful, full-fledged screen reader with an easy-to-learn command structure, intuitive speech feedback in several languages and Braille support that can be used with or without speech. Unlike other screen readers for mobile phones, Mobile Speak automatically detects information that the blind user should know, just as a sighted user would easily find highlighted items or key areas of the screen at a glance.

Supported applications and functions include:

-- Speed dial, call lists and contacts

-- Text messaging

-- Calendar, tasks, notes and calculator

-- Internet browser

-- Word, Excel and PowerPoint

-- Voice Recorder, Media Player, voice speed dial and voice command

-- Phone/device settings, profiles, alarms and ringtones

Mobile Magnifier is a flexible, full-screen magnification application that supports low- and high-resolution screens and can be used with or without speech feedback. Magnification software is compatible with a wide range of mobile devices.

Unique features include:

-- Magnification levels from 1.25x to 16x

-- Font-smoothing for easier readability

-- Three different layouts: a full-screen, split and distributed view

-- Different color schemes, including inverted color

-- Automatic panning and cursor-tracking

-- Automatic zoom function that detects areas of interest on the screen

"We have found that individuals who have vision loss want to be able to choose from a range of wireless handsets," said Paul Schroeder, vice president of Programs and Policy, American Foundation for the Blind. "Just like people who can see, customers with disabilities want options.

We applaud AT&T for its leadership in investing the effort to understand and address the needs of individuals with vision loss."

Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier for Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 operating system devices will be available from AT&T in the fall of 2007.

For more information about wireless product or service offerings for those with disabilities, visit

Note: This AT&T release and other news announcements are available as part of an RSS feed at

About Code Factory, S.L.

Code Factory is a software company committed to the development of products designed to remove barriers to the accessibility of mobile technology for the blind and visually impaired. Noted for innovation and responsiveness, Code Factory is the leading provider of screen readers, screen magnifiers, and Braille interfaces for the widest range of mainstream mobile devices including Symbian-based and Windows Mobile-powered Smartphones as well as phones and PDAs running the Windows Mobile Pocket PC operating system.

Further, Code Factory is the only accessible software provider to support more than a hundred phones working on the GSM, CDMA and WCDMA networks. To learn more about Code Factory and its mission of bringing complete accessibility to mobile devices, visit

About AT&T

AT&T Inc. is a premier communications holding company. Its subsidiaries and affiliates, AT&T operating companies, are the providers of AT&T services in the United States and around the world. Among their offerings are the world's most advanced IP-based business communications services and the nation's leading wireless, high speed Internet access and voice services.

In domestic markets, AT&T is known for the directory publishing and advertising sales leadership of its Yellow Pages and YELLOWPAGES.COM organizations, and the AT&T brand is licensed to innovators in such fields as communications equipment. As part of its three-screen integration strategy, AT&T is expanding its TV entertainment offerings.

Additional information about AT&T Inc. and the products and services provided by AT&T subsidiaries and affiliates is available at .

Australia welcomes e-voting

The e-voting machines will be available for two weeks before the election and on the election day itself at 29 locations across the country, including Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney.

Groups representing the visually-impaired will be invited to a demonstration of the machines before they are put into use, Special Minister of State Gary Nairn said.

The machines will be in deployed in Melbourne, Kooyong, Ballarat, Shepparton, Warragul, Geelong, Adelaide, Gilles Plains, Noarlunga, Wollongong, Parramatta, Enfield, Chatswood, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Albury, Darwin, Alice Springs, Brisbane City, Brisbane North, Gold Coast, Hervey Bay, Cairns, Hobart, Launceston, Perth, Mandurah, Bunbury and Canberra.

Blind or visually impaired voters who live too far from the machines will still be able to vote by post or cast an assisted vote, the minister said.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Special classroom designed for the visually impaired

A special classroom equipped with information technologies tailored to the needs of the visually-impaired has been designed in Cuba.Its was devised by Ariel Rodríguez, himself visually-impaired, who teaches information technologies at a computer club for youngsters, which are referred to in Cuba as Youth Clubs.

The idea for this classroom was the basis of his thesis for his Master's Degree. Rodríguez said that in the special classroom they have appropriate software, a digital library and well-trained teachers, so that the visually-impaired can learn at the same rate as their fellow students.

Harry Potter now available to the visually impaired fans

VISUALLY impaired Harry Potter fans will be able to read the final instalment of his adventures - thanks to a Highbridge-based children's charity.

The National Blind Children's Society will be burning the midnight oil after the book is released to make sure visually-impaired youngsters can find out what happens to the young wizard.

Special large print copies of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows will be put together by the organisation's CustomEyes Book Team and sent out to those children who have pre-ordered the novel.

And one lucky visually-impaired youngster will also get their hands on their very own slice of Harry Potter history after the society held a competition to win a signed photograph of Hagrid, played by Robbie Coltrane, and his dog.

Over a thousand children were asked what was the name of his pet spider and are due to find out whether they have won the top prize on July 23.

Visually impaired student goes to Perfume School!

To the perceptive nose, the honey-coloured soap in the square plastic bottle is the scent of geraniums and lavender with a touch of vanilla. To Emma Liu, it is also the scent of hope and possibility.

For the shy teenager with long, wavy, brown hair, every day is a reminder of the limitations she faces as a visually impaired person. Emma, 14, has Stargardt's disease, which affects her central vision. At school, she can't see what her teachers write on the board, and sometimes it's difficult for her to pick faces out of crowds when people greet her.

But for a few days this summer, she was reminded of the abilities she does have.

Emma, who will be a high school freshman this fall, was one of five blind or visually impaired teenagers invited to a perfume school in Provence designed for young people like her. In a four-day course, they were taught the secrets of perfume-making, a process that is less about seeing than smelling, feeling and imagining.

Olivier Baussan, founder of the French cosmetic company L'Occitane, started the school in 1998 after seeing a blind woman smelling perfume. It struck him that people, particularly young people, should not be limited by the abilities they lack and instead should be able to capitalize on the skills they possess.

Kelly Parisi, who as vice president of communications at the American Foundation for the Blind helped co-ordinate the trip, said that blind people don't have superior olfactory skills, but because they lack one sense, their others may be more finely tuned.

People with Stargardt's disease, a form of macular degeneration that most often affects young people, have difficulty processing Vitamin A. The hereditary disease is relatively rare because both parents must carry the genetic trait to pass it on. About 30,000 people in the United States have Stargardt's disease.

Emma, who was diagnosed at 11, has peripheral vision but cannot see images directly in front of her. Most experts say it is unlikely that she will completely lose her eyesight, but she will require special accommodations.

The disease hasn't prevented Emma from playing basketball and taking up the unicycle -- or being a world traveller. In Provence, the teenagers were taught how to extract oils from flowers, and they heard from a master perfumer -- or "nose,'' as they are known in the business.

Kate Green, vice president of marketing for fine fragrance for Givaudan, a Swiss fragrance company, said there are about 350 such noses in the world.

Most have been hand-picked for their olfactory abilities and train for years at exclusive schools, she said.

In crafting their scents, the teenagers were encouraged to draw from their memories as master noses do, Emma said. The goal, they were told, was to take moments from their lives and express them through scent.

The memory that inspired Emma's geranium, lavender and vanilla creation was one that was both hopeful and sad.

Just a few months before Emma turned 13, her mother, Marie Liu, was found to have breast cancer.

"I realized there wasn't a whole lot that I could do -- I wasn't a doctor or anything -- but I wanted to do something,'' Emma said.

She remembered a story she'd once heard about Sadako, a Japanese girl who was a victim of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. As she lay in the hospital, Sadako vowed to fold 1,000 cranes as a symbol of hope that she would get better.

Emma decided to do the same to give her mother hope as she went through her treatments. Emma, her grandmother, younger brother, father and mother set to work.

It was not an easy task. Sometimes the paper ripped or the cranes came out slightly lopsided. But after a few months, they'd reached their goal. Emma folded the final crane just before Marie had her last chemotherapy session.

The cranes are displayed in the living room of the family's suburban Bethesda, Md. house.
"Whenever I have a bad day, I'm able to think about the cranes,'' Marie Liu said. "I can't allow myself to have too much of a pity party because it's such a gesture of hope.''

In the classroom in Provence, Emma says, she had many thoughts as she inhaled the fragrant scents. Some of the oils had special properties -- they were said to relieve joint aches or have other healing abilities -- and others simply smelled good.

Her instructors told her that there are more than 1,500 essential oils in the world. There were so many choices.

But then, she said, her mother's face popped into her mind, and she knew what she wanted to do. Hers would be a healing soap she could share with her mother, much like the cranes. She chose geranium, lavender and tea tree oil. with a bit of honeysuckle and vanilla.

Emma's French adventure will be chronicled in an upcoming issue of Teen Vogue. The magazine's editors did her hair and makeup and brought outfits for her to model in picturesque lavender fields.
But the best part was being with other visually impaired teenagers who face similar daily challenges, Emma said. She and the others giggled over their mishaps and commiserated about their frustrations.

These girls understand me, Emma thought. She felt far less alone.

When Emma returned home, she put the bottle of soap on a shelf in her bathroom.
"It's kind of for special occasions,'' she said. "It's a memory of my trip.''

And a reminder, she said, of hope, healing and opportunity.

"After all these bad things, (Provence) felt like turning the corner,'' said Marie Liu, who accompanied her daughter on the trip. "One day, Emma woke up and said, 'I'm the luckiest girl alive.' And we realized there are good things that come out of the bad.''

Testing is questioned as far as the special needs and visually impaired students are concerned!

Sixteen-year-old Inga Pleasant lies on a gurney, her dark hair swept back off her face and a breathing tube at her throat. Though she's officially in the 10th grade, Inga is more like a baby.
She's had severe brain damage since she was 7, when she was struck by a drunken driver as she played in her neighborhood. She can't speak. She can't breathe on her own, and she is fed through a tube.


What do you think about the policy of testing severely impaired students?

Inga attends Reddix Habilitation Program in the Northside Independent School District. Staffed with nurses as well as teachers, the facility serves 54 of the most medically fragile public school students from throughout Bexar County.

Her teacher, Dinorah Hernandez, shows Inga two pictures: One is of a cloud with a face drawn on it, its mouth a circle blowing other clouds away. The other picture is of the sun. Hernandez presses a button on a machine that makes the sound of the wind.

"What makes that sound, Inga?" Hernandez asks, holding the two cards up.

Inga's dark eyes move from one picture to the other. Hernandez plays the sound again and repeats her question. Inga's eyes fix on the picture of the cloud for about five seconds.

Northside ISD teacher Dinorah Hernandez makes sounds with a device for Inga Pleasant, 16, at the Reddix Habilitation Program. Some wonder if mandated special education testing isn't a form of cruelty.

Fatima Essa, 18, and Ryan Perez,17, both special education students at Clark High, work on exercises for the TAKS-Alt, which tests special-ed students in the same subject areas nonimpaired students face on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Hernandez has her answer.

"Good job," she tells Inga.

Such exercises can help students like Inga become aware of their environment and communicate. But this was no exercise. It was a state-mandated science test. The test and others like it are required for even the most seriously impaired special education students as part of President Bush's federal education reform law, No Child Left Behind.

Throughout Bexar County and the nation, barely functioning students are taking such tests so school districts can prove they're complying with a law whose stated goal is to "leave no child behind." But teachers, testing directors and curriculum specialists across San Antonio wonder if subjecting these students to such testing can provide any meaningful gauge of academic progress.

More pointedly, they wonder if the testing is a form of unintentional cruelty.

"This test is a true travesty being visited onto a very special, fragile group of students without consideration of the huge amount of lost instructional time for these who need it most," said Sandra Poth, testing director at Northside ISD.

Before the requirement to test special-ed students kicked in, assessing their progress was left entirely to local school districts. That all changed with the federal law, which mandates that every child be tested, regardless of ability. Last school year, for the first time, Hernandez had to test special-ed students in the same subject areas non-impaired students face on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, the state's mandatory standardized test.

So, special-ed students in grades three through 11 — the same grades the regular TAKS was administered — took the TAKS-Alt (short for alternative) in at least two and as many as four subjects — reading, math, science and social studies — depending on their grade level. The students' grade level is determined by their age, not their ability.

In San Antonio, more than 1,600 special-ed children took the test; statewide, about 15,000 were tested.

Countless extra work

For the approximately 200 special-ed teachers working with the most profoundly disabled kids in the San Antonio area's 16 school districts, creating, administering, documenting and scoring the science TAKS-Alt, alone, meant an investment of countless work hours over their regular duties.
Middle and high school teachers reported spending at least 150 additional hours on TAKS-Alt during a three-month period.

State education officials charge local educators with developing the specific ways the TAKS-Alt — rarely, if ever, a pencil and paper test — will be administered.

Any assessment teachers use must marry state curriculum requirements with the realities of their students' impairments. Teachers must document everything about the actual test taking, including whether they had to prompt students for answers, as they often do with the most impaired students.
Dr. Patricia Harkins, a developmental pediatrician in San Antonio, said she doesn't see the purpose of testing such students on a mandated curriculum, particularly when it means taking teachers out of the classroom to complete a blizzard of paperwork.

"The whole purpose of special education is to determine goals that are individually customized to the child. If they are tested, it should be on what those goals are, not on the state curriculum," Harkins said. "It's another example that the whole testing situation is just out of control."

Thirteen-year-old Kevin Boothe has cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair, is visually impaired and can't swallow. He is fed through a tube and doesn't speak. Teachers describe him as one of the higher-functioning students at Reddix.

Kevin's recent English language arts test consisted of teacher Dorothy Reeh reading a story to him. When she finished a page, she paused and asked Kevin what to do if he wanted more of the story.

Kevin paused, and slowly dragged his hand across the desk and pressed a button that played a voice recording.

"More story please," the recording said.

Reeh continued reading and stopped again at the end of the next page to wait for Kevin's prompt.
Sometimes, Kevin hit the button on his own. Most often, Reeh had to remind him. If he grew tired or became distracted, she took his hand and helped him press the button.

Kevin's mother, Jean Boothe, said she's caught between wanting her son to make the most progress he can and sparing him the excesses of testing she considers inappropriate.

"We want to provide the best for them so you test them, but in this case, what do you gain from that?" Boothe said. "I'm horrified the teachers are spending so much time on it."

The debate

Janice Keeler, principal at Reddix, wonders if the federal law's good intentions have backfired.
"Our children have cerebral palsy. They are visually impaired, hearing impaired. We deal with seizures on a regular basis," she said. "In the bigger picture, I understand very much what they're trying to do: set standards and get everybody on the same level. But it completely ignores what's possible in the case of a developmentally impaired child."

Many parents of special needs students, adamant about doing right by their kids, find themselves activists in a battle they never wanted to fight. Some long have clamored for more testing and accountability, arguing their children should have strong educational standards, too.

"It's a kind of civil rights issue, giving kids access to the curriculum," said Jacqui Kearns, director of the National Alternative Assessment Center at the University of Kentucky. "If you leave anybody out of accountability, then they're at risk for not being taught. Families really want their kids to have access to academic content that other kids have."

Inga Pleasant's mom, Melissa E. Head, said she knows her daughter's medical condition likely never will improve, but if it did, she wants to know that Inga has been given every opportunity to learn and advance.

"In her condition, it stimulates her brain," she said. "I think all schools should do that for handicapped children."

Alexa Posny, former director of the Office of Special Education Programs for the U.S. Education Department, said an increased focus on curriculum and testing — even for disabled students — is producing unexpected, positive results.

"Part of what we're hearing from parents is that, for the first time, their kids are being held to a more challenging standard and they're happy about that," Posny said. "We're finding out that these kids are more capable than we thought and you'll hear teachers say, 'I had no idea.'"

Others argue that another federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, already extends protections and special services to the 6.7 million impaired children now being educated in the nation's public schools.

The law mandates that public schools develop specific blueprints, or Individual Education Plans, for educating each special-ed child. The plans must establish goals for the school year developed by a committee that includes the child's parents, teacher and curriculum specialists.

"I think we keep really good records on these kids because their IEP requires it," said Kathy McKinney , special education director for Fort Sam Houston, Randolph Field and Lackland independent school districts, which serve students on San Antonio's military bases. "There is constant monitoring and reporting on this population of students."

But Posny believes developing tests based on a state's curriculum is critical for disabled students.
"Special-ed teachers need to be aware of what the state standards are," said Posny, who left the Education Department recently to become commissioner of education in Kansas.

In Texas, teachers are becoming intimately familiar with the state curriculum.

Building blocks

To develop a method for administering the TAKS-Alt, teachers use the state's curriculum — called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills — as a guide. They must compare what impaired students would be able to accomplish at their grade levels if they weren't impaired, and then decide on a skill at the student's actual developmental level that could be considered a so-called "building block" to progress.

For example, a student in the 10th grade needs to be able to "express and support responses to various types of texts," according to the state curriculum.

For a non-impaired sophomore, this means reading literature and writing an essay that cites examples from the reading. But for the special education 10th-grader who's on a second-grade level developmentally, the building block skill could be listening to stories read aloud. For the test, then, a teacher might read a story aloud, then ask the student questions about it.

Teachers must come up with four such tests for each subject: reading, math, science and social studies. If students successfully complete one activity, teachers must come up with a second one to show they can accomplish the skill in a different setting. That's a minimum of 16 activities for one student, and many high school teachers may have a dozen students, or more, taking the tests. It can take seven to 10 hours to both test and complete documentation for one student.

"I agree with the premise that we need to have some way to quantify and measure children's progress," said Toni Riester-Wood, director of special education, moderate to severe programs, for North East ISD. "But this test is incredibly cumbersome."

For the upcoming school year, the number of required activities will increase.

"I haven't taught in two weeks because I've been doing TAKS-Alt," said Anna Marabella, a veteran special education teacher at Redland Oaks Elementary in North East ISD who teaches autistic children. "It was literally hundreds of hours of work. All our energy is into it. I'm testing all year and I'm doing paperwork, and all I want to do is teach."

Not baby sitters

Jennifer Fitzhugh, a teacher at Jackson Middle School in North East ISD, said it was good to be reminded she should be linking what she's teaching to the state curriculum, even if she has to break it down to a more basic level for her students.

"I love the accountability factor," she said. "We are teachers, not baby sitters."

She said the test actually was a boost for her kids' self esteem. Students in her class have a range of abilities — from very basic to relatively functional.

"They're in middle school and they know it's a big deal for everyone when TAKS testing is going on," Fitzhugh said. "I told them, 'This is your TAKS test and you're going to show me how smart you are.' They loved that."

Kearns, the director for the National Alternative Assessment Center, said the test will become less cumbersome as teachers become familiar with it. Besides, she said, the damage of what she calls "bad testing" doesn't outweigh the harm done by failing to challenge special-ed students.

"A few days of bad testing doesn't beat out 12 years of no instruction," she said. "If we assume a student doesn't know what's going on and never will, what does it hurt to expose them to the curriculum? But if we don't teach them, and we were wrong in our assumption of what they're capable of, what damage have we done?"

Karen Pumphrey, a special education teacher at Clark High in Northside ISD, isn't so sure.
Along with lessons in reading, math and social studies, she teaches her students basic life skills she hopes will help them live as independently as possible someday.

"My students are not in the general education curriculum," Pumphrey said. "I know they want us to be TEKS-based, but for what purpose? We teach them how to use a stove, how to get a job."
For Rosemary Perez, the testing issue is personal. She's director of compensatory education for Northside and the mother of a special needs child, Ryan Perez, who is a student in Pumphrey's classroom. Ryan, 17, has Down syndrome, and Perez has high hopes for what he will be able to do when he grows up.

She's glad he's getting academic instruction, but she has more pressing concerns.

"It's more important for Ryan to be able to let us know his needs, how to express those and problem-solve for himself," she said. "I'm not worried about his math skills or his composition skills. I'm happy if he can write his first and last name."

Secret vote option has been denied again to the visually impaired

The Malta Society of the Blind, Gozo Aid for the Visually Impaired and Torball Society of the Blind said that a judgment handed down by the First Hall of the Civil Court of Malta “once again denied” visually impaired citizens “the right to vote independently and secretly, like other sighted citizens.”
The Associations said that visually impaired persons feel discriminated against by the method through which they presently vote, that is through the help of the officers of the Electoral Commission.

The Associations furthermore instead that another method exists whereby visually impaired persons would vote on their own. This method consists in a cardboard template the size of the ballot paper to serve as a guide in the casting of electoral choices.

The court case was filed in a bid to rectify the present situation visually impaired persons face; however the associations said that through its decision, the court appears to have failed to understand the issue.

“The court decided not to deal with the issue, in that it deemed it of a constitutional nature. Apart from that, it ignored the Equal Opportunities Act of the year 2000, under which we were seeking remedy and it also set aside the fact that such law prohibits all discriminatory treatments on grounds of disability,” continued the Associations.

“We feel profoundly aggrieved, in that all institutions failed to act in a concrete way and now that another institution, which is supposed to render justice to all, cynically turned its shoulders to us too. Therefore, we once again appeal to the Electoral Commission as well as to Parliament, so that all measures are taken to give us what, after all, is our basic human right,” concluded the Associations.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Visually impaired sailor loves freedom of the water

Sailor Dave Allerton has a simple message for those who think visual impairment is a barrier to living life to the full: "Us blindies are pretty stubborn people. You cannot tell us we cannot do anything."

Allerton, a New Zealander, lost most of his sight about seven years ago as a result of a genetic disorder and he now only has some peripheral vision.

And he is the first to admit that at times he was plunged into the depths of despair and felt that life had little to offer him anymore. The thing that rescued Allerton, a married father of two, from the abyss, was sailing: on the water he has a freedom that is now largely denied on land.

Sony explores new technology to create a television for the visually impaired

Sony has started a new campaign to get more TV manufacturers and broadcasters involved in making services for the blind. The majority of consumers have embraced and benefited from the increase in services, channels and programmes provided by today's digital broadcasters. But many visually impaired people are unable to take advantage of these benefits.

And yet the technology exists for them to enjoy TV programming as much as those that can see.
"We are all used to seeing and using subtitles on TV, but what many people don't know is that the technology exists to make a similarly useful service available for the 30 million or so visually impaired people we have in Europe," says Andreas Ditter, vice president of Sony TV Operations Europe.

"The entire
Sony Bravia television range now provides access to Audio Description (AD) as standard which, in combination with a commitment to raise awareness of AD, aims to increase the number of programmes, broadcasters and television manufacturers that offer the service."

Television for the blind

Audio Description (AD) is an additional narrative soundtrack for blind or partially sighted people. During gaps in programme dialogue, an additional voice explains visual plot points, enabling visually impaired people to follow the storyline more fully.

Audio description is available on a variety of television programmes throughout the UK and Europe. But until now it has only been accessible through the purchase of a separate set-top box or satellite receiver.

Now, all Sony Bravia TVs will include Integrated Digital Television (IDTV) as standard, and provide access to AD without the need for an additional decoder. Sony says that other manufacturers should follow suit.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

New organizer for the visually impaired

Because this innocuous-looking device happens to have features packed into it that open up a whole world of possibilities for the visually impaired. And that always manages to catch my attention because I firmly believe that technology can thrive only if it always keeps the needs of common users in perspective.

In that respect, the
Icon Mobile Manager from LevelStar scores well. It's a hand-held organizer (or PDA as you would call it) that accomplishes everything a normal PDA would do (calendar, address book, clock, word processor, calculator, voice recorder, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity) without a screen.

This Linux (oh, obviously) device has a 30gig hard drive that can store and play all audio, as well as an audio-based web browser plus email client. In addition, you could also plug the Icon into the Docking Station (sold separately) and connect to the Internet.
But be forewarned - all these features come at a pretty hefty price tag of $1,395. Shipping only in the United States.

Are computers better than Braille?

Clients and employees of North Central Sight Services may be blind or visually impaired, but they are as dependent on computers as much as anyone else is.That’s why training on software programs for enhancing their lives was deemed so important, according to officials of the city-based social service agency.

“We live and breathe this computer stuff,” president and CEO Bob Garrett said. “Like it or not, it’s part of life.”Garrett is standing in the middle of the agency’s Access Technology Center, tucked away inside its new location at 2121 Reach Road.Three computers, each equipped with specialized software, will serve as the training site for visually impaired or blind people.

Garrett, who has been blind since age 5, could not emphasize enough the importance of the newest software training.“From my perspective, the computer is the most valuable tool for a blind person since Braille,” he said.Among the software programs are JAWS, which reads aloud information appearing on the screen, Garrett said. JAWS has been around for quite some time, but it was not until now that the agency decided to begin offering training for people to use the program.Brian Buck, North Central Sight Services associate, said to understand the concept of JAWS is to think of the index of a book.

Once the keystrokes for accessing the JAWS system are learned, it’s simply a matter of accessing the desired Web page and having JAWS read it aloud back to the person.“Screenwriting programs have been around,” Garrett said.

“The nice thing about the newest programs is they are more affordable.”They also are more easily accessible by the user, he added. “This will open the door to learning more about what’s out there.”In addition to JAWS, the agency is offering training on a similar read-aloud program known as Window-Eyes.“I think we’ll figure out early on which works better for people,” Garrett said.ZOOM Text, still another software program, does not read information aloud but rather magnifies it on the screen to enable visually impaired persons to see it.

“I like ZOOM Text a lot better,” said Buck, who is not blind, but visually impaired. “You can crank up your magnification to make it gigantic.”

The mission of North Central Sight Services is a three-pronged approach:

• To provide resources for helping people become independent. It includes home visits for services and education;

• To offer services for preventing blindness;

• To provide on-site work operations for employees.

The new software training, Garrett said, will do nothing but help everyone involved with or helped by the agency.“I know it’s been important to me to have this access,” he said. “I believe we’ve created a culture here where technology is important.”Improving computer technology is a vital part of growing the agency, he said.

But just as important to that growth is taking the leap of faith to commit to a vision.Part of that commitment involved moving the agency to its new location in the city’s industrial park as a means of offering more expanded services.He credited the board of directors for helping the agency move forward.“We are delighted to have these new facilities,” Garrett said.

Soon to become visually impaired, a woman is searching for a new career

By the end of this year, Diane Anderson may not be able to see.

Anderson, 60, of Mountain Home, is living with a rare, genetic eye disorder that is taking away her sight, and her life as a professional artist.

But she is not giving up.

"To continue my life, I had to find a new way of living it," said Anderson, who is learning computer programs for the visually impaired to enable her to get another job.

About three years ago, Anderson started to notice changes in her vision. She found out her retina was deteriorating, and there was no treatment. Doctors hoped the deterioration would be slow, because the disease had been dormant.

But that was not the case. She now has 10 percent of her vision left and is expected to completely lose her sight by the end of the year.

"I started making changes," Anderson said.

For nearly 30 years, she worked full time as a professional artist painting watercolor landscapes. She planned to continue painting full time until she was 70.

"I planned to work full time because I love my career," she said. "Now I'm losing my career and I'm trying to find a new career. I don't want to retire."

Anderson realized she needed to relearn the most basic tasks, like pouring water, choosing coordinated clothing, or turning on the oven.

She headed to Lions World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, an adult rehabilitation center that serves people who are blind or visually impaired. The center, governed by the Lions of Arkansas, serves people in all the states and 57 countries.

"It affected my life greatly," said Anderson, who joined the Mountain Home Lions Club, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last week. "It was empowering."

She stayed at the Little Rock campus for one month, focusing on orientation, mobility and technology available to the blind. She chose to be blindfolded during exercises so she could learn how to go up stairs and navigate curbs and streets with the help of a white cane.

"It's my future," she said. "If I want to develop my career, I need to get around."

She's learned not being able to see takes more mental energy and more organization. With the help of her husband, Bill, her clothing colors are separated and cans are labeled in her pantry. Her watch has a button that reads the time back to her. She also started learning rudimentary Braille so she can find bathrooms and elevators in public places.

"Technology has opened up huge doors for the visually impaired," said Anderson. "So many things are available to the blind to make life easier."

Although Anderson has a positive outlook and sense of humor, at times she does feel sadness.
"I had many, many tears," she said, adding it is difficult knowing she may not see her grandchildren by Christmas. "It's a huge transition. I'm fortunate that by losing vision a little every day, it gives me a chance to adjust. It's a blessing, in a way."

She plans to start looking for a job in about six months, after she becomes completely skilled with new computer programs.

"I make myself move on and learn new skills," she said. "You have to keep learning new ways to express yourself. There's a lot I feel I can give back."

Puppy to be trained to become a guide-dog!

Despite the heartache it will eventually cause, Kelly Burdumy has made an 18-month commitment to raise and train a creature that she will give away to someone she has never met.Kelly, 17, a Ridgefield resident, and her mother, Becky, have spent the last half-year raising Emerson, an 8-month-old black Labrador retriever they hope will be placed with a visually impaired person in the United States or Canada.

The two are volunteer puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes For the Blind, a New York-based nonprofit that provides trained Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds for visually impaired people.Usually puppies about 6 weeks old - vaccinated but not housebroken - are given to volunteers. Puppy raisers are asked to buy food and basic supplies, which are tax-deductible, and Guiding Eyes pays for medical care and training.

"It's like having a kid," Kelly said. "You have to spend so much time walking him and ensuring he's in a positive environment."A raiser must socialize the puppy with activities such as taking it along while picking up children from school, and taking trips to the supermarket and the mall. Raisers in this region are required to attend class on the first and third Thursdays of the month in Westport.

"One of our main jobs is allowing him to experience everywhere we go," Kelly said. "When he's with the blind person, he has to be calm in all public places."Emerson is not the first Guiding Eyes dog to join the Burdumy household."This is the second dog we worked with," Kelly said. "My brother, Matt, was the first to get into it. He and my mom did it last year with George, a black and tan Labrador, who is now in Canada."Gretchen Pierce, regional manager of the puppy program, said the dogs complete a full circle in training.

"We breed the dogs, and then they go to the volunteer puppy raisers before coming back here, where they go through harness training," Pierce said. "The raiser teaches it basic obedience, plays games with it and gets it out for socialization. I think that's part of the difference between working with Guiding Eyes and raising a dog. Our pups need to get used to the world outside and develop a sort of been-there, done-that mentality."Kate Petreycik Scott of Ridgefield said she enjoys raising the pups."It's addicting," she said.

"Once you start doing it, you see these dogs progress and begin to see their full potential."Petreycik Scott said understanding how the dogs will help blind and visually impaired people makes it easier to give them up."I can't even tell you how much it hurts, but it's worth it," she said. "Every month or so, their trainer will send you reports and you start to see how they progress. It's very rewarding and fulfilling. It's an experience beyond words.

"Six puppies are now being raised in southwestern Connecticut, Pierce said."It's really about a partnership between the blind individual and the dog," she said. "What the dog actually does is lead somebody around the obstacle or safely guide the person through a crowd of people."After training is complete, the dog meets its partner."The graduating class comes from all different regions, from Maine to North Carolina," Petreycik Scott said.

"Everyone is so proud of their dog and happy with where they will be going. You get to meet with their new partner and exchange contact information, if you want."Generally a dog is given to a visually impaired person when it is 2 to 2-1/2 years old. Dogs usually work for five to nine years before retiring. After that, they usually become a household pet for the blind person or the puppy raiser.- For information about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, call the region leader, Cora Martin, at 834-0069.